Effective salt alternatives for sidewalks
February 8, 2014 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Hello, fellow salt-deprived victims of this over-generous winter! I am fanatical about clearing my front walk, but my salt supplies are almost depleted and both salt and the usual alternatives are out of stock in my Toronto neighbourhood. In addition to dedicated shovelling and attacking residual ice with the appropriate metal tools, what can I do to fight problems like a thin slick of black ice that results from the occasional melt-friendly temperatures we get?

I am concerned about keeping my neighbours and my poor postal carrier safe on my walk, so I'm not looking for Yak Traks or any other personal solutions.

I will be doing my best to keep my walk shovelled bare, but I may need spot treatment for any treacherous ice that appears.

Sand or non-clumping cat litter won't melt ice, but are supposed to help with traction. Do they really? Will they be effective on hazards like thin, smooth ice?

Would it make sense to try to mix up an intense brine with table salt? How about sprinkling sugar (dry or syrup?) on the walk? I can see several claims that sugar, while inferior to salt, can help melt ice. Myth or fact?
posted by maudlin to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: they used to have, and I used to buy, sacks of absorbent stuff, a bit like the old type of cat litter, for use in auto repair places to absorb oil spills...it worked like magic on ice for traction and was fairly inexpensive..
posted by Postroad at 10:46 AM on February 8, 2014

Best answer: Don't do sugar, because if you track it into the house all your floors will be sticky.

Table salt is going to be a lot more expensive than bulk sidewalk salt. Bulk calcium chloride lowers the melting point of water more than sodium chloride, so it's going to be more effective if what you want is to totally melt the ice.

But if all you care about is people not slipping, go with sand. If you can shovel it for free at a municipal supply, it will have a little salt mixed into it to keep it from hardening, and the salt helps it melt into the ice surface just a little and stay put, creating an anti-skid surface.
posted by beagle at 10:48 AM on February 8, 2014

Hot water for spot treatment. In my neighbourhood people use sand in front of their houses and I find it works fine.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:49 AM on February 8, 2014

Response by poster: This sort of product, Postroad? They're all in pretty low stock at my local CT, so I suspect that other people may be using them for the same reason.
posted by maudlin at 10:54 AM on February 8, 2014

Try microwaving the sand before putting it down. Warm sand will get into the ice rather than sitting on top of it and provide a much grippier surface.
posted by stine at 10:56 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've used kosher salt when the store was out of ice melt. It's not a long term solution but it's grittier than regular table salt.

Clay kitty litter works when it's very cold, but turns into mush and becomes very slick when it melts. It also tracks mud into the house. If you can get a hold of sand, go with that. Sand can be swept up and won't harm plants or grass like salt (tho' a little mixed in with the sand wouldn't hurt). Save the kitty litter for the trunk of the car.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:06 AM on February 8, 2014

When I lived in a college town that turned over every 4 years (which was about the same frequency with which we had large, terrible blizzards - nobody owned snow shovels and nobody knew how to drive in the mess), I would stock up on water softener salts and just take a hammer to the bag to break it up.
posted by honeybee413 at 11:12 AM on February 8, 2014

If you or a friend has a fireplace, I've read that wood ashes are decent at melting ice, at the cost of being messy if you track them into your house or car. Haven't tried it myself.
posted by jon1270 at 11:28 AM on February 8, 2014

Best answer: nthing sand or gravel.

Which has the bonus feature of not washing insane amounts of salt into Lake Ontario every spring.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:08 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just get course water softener salt (non-pelletized); it'll run $5 (US) for 50 pounds and last for months.
posted by glibhamdreck at 12:17 PM on February 8, 2014

Best answer: just last week we were able to get a bag of sand/salt mixture at the metro on college They seemed to have a good supply, maybe you could try there.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:34 PM on February 8, 2014

Response by poster: Welp, I found a sand and salt mix at my local Home Depot! And then, umm, they showed me where they were hiding the straight salt. (I called earlier and was told that they had no salt. Anyone else running short, check the building materials department.)

Now I feel guilty about the environmental havoc I'll wrack, even after giving myself green points for bringing back 20kg by bike :-(

But I can switch to straight sand when this stash runs out. It may not melt the ice, but it does sound as if it really does help with traction.
posted by maudlin at 12:49 PM on February 8, 2014

I have well water. Every month or so I have to dump a 40 pound bag of salt pellets or solar rock salt into a water softener hooked up to the well pump. You may want to try that kind of salt (crush up the pellets if you go that route). That 40 pound bag of pellets costs me US$4 at Aldi's (not sure if you have those in Canada). They're also sold at Home Depot, BJ's, and so forth, but with this "overly generous winter" you may have issues finding a store that has it in stock. I just think many people will not have thought to use water softener salt pellets.

I have dogs, so I buy pet safe ice melt granules for my walkways, and use the salt pellets only in my softener tank. I buy the ice melter through Amazon.
posted by tckma at 1:40 PM on February 8, 2014

I have a wood stove and use the ashes on my driveway. Not on the walkway - too much gets tracked in. It's sort of gritty, dark - attracting sun's warmth to encourage melting, free, and gets rid of it. It's very alkaline, so may be good to neutralize acid rain? If you know someone who burns wood, it's free.
posted by theora55 at 3:12 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for wood ash. When I had a woodstove I stored all the ash (once it was cool) in a big garbage can for exactly that use. It creates a surprising amount of traction, and you can deal with the black footprints with a boots-off policy at the front door.
posted by ceiba at 10:40 PM on February 8, 2014

I live in Duluth, MN. We never use salt. When necessary, it's the cheapest bag of cat litter available. Works fine.
posted by RedEmma at 12:22 PM on February 9, 2014

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